Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Iraq’s National Guard Plan Moving Forward While Legislation In Jeopardy In Baghdad

When Prime Minister Haider Abadi came into office in September 2014 one of the many reforms he suggested was the creation of a National Guard for Iraq. This new force would be made up of local fighters who would be under the command of the governor of each province, and incorporate existing tribal fighters and militias. This would help with not only security, but decentralize powers away from Baghdad out to the governorates. The creation of a National Guard would require legislation, which is deadlocked in the cabinet. In the meantime a few provinces have moved ahead with raising their own forces whether the law is passed or not.

Shortly after coming into power Premier Haider Abadi suggested a National Guard be formed to help defend the country, but since then the idea has been stuck in the council of ministers. In September the cabinet started drafting a bill on the issue, but it has caused quite a bit of controversy. There are questions about how the guard would be organized, its salaries, powers, etc. For instance, a parliamentarian from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) complained that the Guard could lead to the division of Iraq with 18 separate militaries for each province. A Badr lawmaker said that the guard was not necessary as the militias could defeat the insurgency, while a Kurdish parliamentarian argued that there was no constitutional or legal framework to create such a force, and that it could be used in future conflicts between provinces. Finally, on January 16 Al Mada reported that the draft bill might be pushed back to the 2016 budget because of the austerity measures being implemented due to the collapse in oil prices. With the differences between the Shiite parties who constitute the largest bloc within the legislature, along with reservations by the Kurds there is no way that the National Guard can be passed at present. Bringing up budget cuts could be the excuse its opponents are looking for to kill the bill.

Despite the lack of action in the cabinet some parts of Iraq are moving ahead with forming their own provincial security forces with the acquiescence of Baghdad officials. Anbar was the first governorate to take up the call for the National Guard. By September up to 80% of the province was under insurgent control, and the provincial government had repeatedly asked for help from the central government with little coming. On September 20 it was reported that the Anbar council was planning on raising 10,000 men to be trained for the new guard. Then in October the Interior Ministry approved the creation of a 3,000 man Special Task Force Brigade made up of pro-government tribesmen and trained by the Americans. The first cohort of that force was said to have finished its preparations in November, but there were complaints by some sheikhs that it was not armed or equipped sufficiently. At the same time, the security committee on the Babil council announced that it was going to start recruiting volunteers for a 4,000 man National Guard unit with Premier Abadi’s approval. In December, the Ninewa government said it too had gotten the permission of the prime minister to set up three camps to train forces to retake Mosul. By January 2015 there was said to be 4,000 men in training, but Governor Atheel Nujafi claimed they no longer had the blessing of Abadi. Finally, in that same month Diyala’s governor said that Defense and Interior Ministries had okayed raising 6,000 recruits into local Iraqi Security Force units. Baghdad only has so many forces at its disposal, and not enough to cover all areas of the country sufficiently. That’s the reason why these provinces have embraced the National Guard idea. They want more soldiers and police then are available, so the idea of being able to raise their own appeals to them. Anbar was the first to take the initiative and an initial tribal brigade has already been deployed to the front. The Mosul force on the other hand, may be more fantasy then fact as Governor Nujafi has constantly claimed that locals and even other insurgent factions would rise up against the Islamic State and push it out of Mosul, but there’s been little to back up his rhetoric. It’s yet to be seen whether Babil and Diyala will be more successful. The more important question is whether Baghdad will fully back these moves, because without their funding and weapons none of these units will last.

Faced with the collapse of many ISF units after the fall of Mosul in June, new Prime Minister Abadi proposed raising local National Guard units to help protect each province. That would not only provide new forces, but also move some power to the governorates, something that many have been asking for. Many of the ruling parties however are centralists or are worried about what might come of the Guard and have held up the draft with no passage in sight. That has led a few governorates to take matters into their own hands and start forming their own units. These are some of the provinces with the worst security situations where local councils are desperate for help. All the reports claim that Baghdad has backed these efforts, but only in Anbar has there been any concrete moves so far. It will take more time to see whether this was just a verbal commitment or a real move towards some decentralizing.


Buratha News, “A senior Kurdish official: the risk of the National Guard being formed may outweigh the risk of terrorism,” 12/28/14

Daragahi, Borzou, “Isis fighters seize key military base in Iraq’s Anbar province,” Financial Times, 10/13/14

Al Mada, “Austerity threatens to postpone the National Guard to the next year and the amendments with the central government,” 1/16/15
- “Babylon begins the formation of the National Guard volunteers from the popular crowd and emphasizes “association,”” 9/30/14
- “”Honeymoon” between Abadi and Sunnis ending threats and reservations inhibiting National Guard,” 1/3/15
- “Nineveh volunteers continue training despite reluctance to give them salaries or arm them..and the Peshmerga awaiting coordination with Baghdad,” 1/10/15

Al Masalah, “Badr: Iraqis do not need the National Guard to defeat Daash,” 1/1/15
- “Citizen witnessing the mass split between deputies on the National Guard Law,” 10/27/14

National Iraqi News Agency, “A local force of 10 thousand volunteers will be formed within the National Guard in Anbar,” 9/20/14
- “MoI approves forming a special force in Anbar under the supervision of US,” 10/17/14

Al Rayy, “Anbar declares that the first batch of the Brigade of Martyr Ahmed Dulaimi will complete its training this week,” 11/4/14
- “Diyala announce the approval of the Interior and Defense Ministries to adopt 6 thousands of her sons into the security institution,” 1/7/15

Rudaw, “Iraq to build new army bases, train volunteers for Mosul operation,” 12/26/14

Shafaq News, “Abadi agrees to form a force of 30 thousand fighters from Anbar,” 10/28/14
- “A leader in Albu-Nimr tribe: the government did not arms only 100 of our men without ammunition,” 11/18/14

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